So you have a website and decided not hire an agency and just do some SEO optimization yourself. We feel you… Google away, brave warrior. If you are a regular on our blog, you’ll have noticed we generally cover more complex topics, but as the holidays are here, we have decided to be Internet Santa today and give you some basic tips for your quest into self SEO optimization.

The first thing to know is that web builders and marketing gurus sometimes get carried away with their SEO efforts, and then end up committing some terrible SEO no-nos that are punishable by Google (luckily not death though). Although these methods are used in order to move up in Google’s search engine rankings, they can actually push you back and do the opposite of what you’re trying to accomplish.

A lot of these following methods can get your website sandboxed, meaning Google will stop crawling your site and not index you at all. Yeah, that would really suck. To avoid getting sandboxed, we’ve put together a list of 10 classic SEO mistakes for your newb SEO mind.

1. Do Not Stuff Keywords

Targeting keywords is a great way to optimize your web page for search engines, but writing bad copy because of keyword stuffing is not.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term keyword stuffing, it’s when you take a targeted keyword and fit it into your copy as many times as possible in order to manipulate Google’s search results.

Keyword Density

Your keyword density is the percentage of times a keyword or a phrase on a web page compared to the total amount of words on the page.

The ideal keyword density for a page is anywhere between 1% and 3%, but up anywhere up to 5% is acceptable. If you go above the recommended keyword density, your copy will sound awkward.

Google is much smarter than you think (and face it, much smarter than you), and it can tell when you are intentionally repeating keywords to improve rankings. When Google detects keyword stuffing, it will actually move a site down in ranking. You’re much better off writing good, valuable copy that sounds natural with your targeted keywords.

2. Do Not Use Hidden Text

Going hand-in-hand with keyword stuffing, using hidden text is the act of making the text the same color as the background of a website, so the text will not be visible on the page, but the page will still rank for the text you are hiding.

Some companies choose to do this in order to hide a bunch of keywords throughout their sites, with the intent of moving up in ranking for those keywords.

Using hidden text can get you banned or delisted from search engines, so your best bet is doing good keyword research, and writing good copy without stuffing or hiding text. Don’t be that guy.

3. Do Not Have Broken Links

A broken link is a link whose destination has been moved or no longer exists, and results in a “404 Error”.

Broken links are like broken promises (admit it, you’ve made plenty of those); people are expecting to be taken to a certain destination when clicking a link on your page, and if the link is broken, their expectations are not being met.

Google punishes websites for this because too many broken links on a website make that site a less reputable source. A broken link here or there shouldn’t harm you, but doing a simple site crawl every now and then will draw attention to any broken links, which are simple fixes.

Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a free service provided by Google, which allows site owners to check and optimize the visibility of their websites.  Included tools let site owners:

  • Submit and check a sitemap
  • Check and set the crawl rate, and view stats about how Google bots access particular sites
  • Generate and check a robots.txt file
  • List internal and external pages that link to the site
  • Get a list of broken links for the site
  • See what keyword searches on Google led to the site being listed in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Page), and the click through rates of such listings
  • View statistics about how Google indexes the site, and if it found any errors while doing it

 4. Do Not Copy Other People’s Copy

The copied copy is a big “No-No.” Think back to when you had to write papers in high school or college; what was the one thing your teachers or professors always said? PLAGIARIZING WILL RESULT IN AN AUTOMATIC FAILURE.

Google thinks the same way. It’s alright to use other sources for information, but you better cite those sources if you decide to use their ideas.

A good way to avoid plagiarism and please Google is to use outbound links — incorporating links to other web pages within your copy.  Outbound links are great for:

  • Citing sources. You can pull information from other sources to use in your own content, as long as you cite that source by linking to it.
  • Building relationships. When you link to another website, the site owner gets a notification. A lot of times site owners will link back to you once they notice you are linking to them.
  • SEO. When someone links to your site, this is called an inbound link or a backlink, which is great for your SEO. Backlinks are a key piece of information used by Google to determine a website’s page rank.

5. Do Not Duplicate Content

Duplicate content is content that appears on the Internet more than once. Duplicate content can occur through a few non-vindictive means:

  • Store product items that are shown or linked to via multiple distinct URLs
  • Printer-only versions of web pages
  • Session IDs which occur when each user that visits a website is assigned a different session ID that is stored in the URL

However, many times duplicate content is created on the web in order to improve search engine rankings or increase traffic.

The 3 Problems with Duplicate Content

  • Search engines don’t know which version(s) of a page to index
  • Search engines don’t know where to direct metrics
  • Search engines don’t know which version(s) to rank for query results

Ways to Avoid Duplicate Content

  • Use 301 redirects. Simply, this is a permanent redirect from one URL to another — similar to a “change of address form” you would get at a post office.
  • Avoid publishing stubs. Don’t publish empty pages (aka pages you don’t have yet have real content).
  • Minimize similar content. If you have multiple pages with the same information, try expanding the content on those pages to make them different, or try consolidating those pages into one.

6. Do Not Neglect Image Optimization (It Is Your Friend)

Adding to images to your web pages or blog posts will make them more visually appealing to readers, but optimizing those images will make them more appealing to search engines.

Optimized images help with ranking for keywords as well as building quality links. Here are some things you can do to make sure you are making the most out of your images:

  • Use quality images
  • Describe the image in your file name
  • Fill out the alt text for all of your images
  • Long descriptions
  • Descriptive anchor text
  • Relevant surrounding content
  • EXIF (Exchangeable Image File) Data
  • Use site-maps to help Google find your images
  • Avoid large file sizes

7. Do Not Avoid Analytics

Running a website without measuring analytics is like trying to shoot a target while wearing a blindfold (you ain’t an Olympian, ok) — it’s voluntarily sacrificing the likelihood of success.  It is important to know where your traffic is coming from, and this information is made available through Google Analytics.

On your Google Analytics dashboard, selecting Traffic Sources > Sources > Search > Organic will provide you with a list of keywords in order of how many visits they have received. You get a firsthand look into which keywords are working the best for you so you can focus a little more attention to those keywords.

8. Make Your Site Crawlable

Google uses bots that are sometimes called “spiders” or “crawlers” that go through sites and index content found on the web. If Google crawlers don’t see any direct crawlable links to your pages, those pages may as well not exist, no matter how great your content and keyword targeting is.

Here is a great illustration put together by the guys from Moz, which shows a scenario where certain pages of a site might not be crawlable.

Google’s crawler has made it page A, and it sees the direct links to pages and E. However, neither pages B nor E link to pages C or D, which makes it impossible for Google crawlers to index those pages. Google has no way of knowing those pages even exist.

So here are some tips to make sure your site is crawlable:

  • Crawlers read HTML; the bots have a hard time reading non-text content like images, flash files, etc..
  • You can use a robot.txt file to tell the bots which web pages should be ignored and which ones should be indexed.
  • Make sure you have direct and crawlable links pointing at your web page.

9. Do Not Try to Rank for the Wrong Keywords

Keyword research is such an important part of SEO, but still, so many marketers (and newbs like you) do it wrong. In order to draw in the customers who are actually going to convert, you need to be looking for the keywords that are going to do that the best.

Here are some of the biggest mistakes made when trying to rank for keywords:

  • Targeting keywords that are way too competitive
  • Targeting keywords that nobody is searching for
  • Targeting keywords that are too generic
  • Targeting keywords that don’t reflect what your customers are using
  • Targeting the plural versions of keywords, rather than the singular versions
  • Targeting keywords that are broad matches instead of exact matches

Keyword targeting does more than improving your page rank, it helps drive the right type of people to your site.

10. Do Not Use Irrelevant Anchor Text

What is Anchor Text?

Anchor text is essentially the clickable and visual text of a hyperlink.

Source: http://moz.com/learn/seo/anchor-text

When you link to another web page, you get to choose the anchor text that points to the web page you are linking to. It is never beneficial to link to something with the actual link as the anchor text. For example:

One of the greatest things about anchor text is that it allows you to add links into your content without interrupting the flow of the writing. By throwing an ugly link into your writing you are taking away from the reading experience. Anchor texts work best when used like this:

Using relevant anchor text helps search engines learn more about the sites you are linking to, and what people are clicking on to land on those sites. Google becomes suspicious when they see that too many of a site’s inbound links have the exact same anchor texts because this could mean that the links were acquired unnaturally.

When it comes to SEO, play by the rules and don’t try and cheat the system. You’re not as smart as you or your mom think you are. Of course, you can always ask us to do it (insider tip: we’re smarter than you).

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